Carnatic music in the digital age: e-learning is hitting the right note

Classical music has taken to technology effortlessly, with apps and web tutorials proving a hit

June 16, 2016 12:00 am | Updated October 18, 2016 03:28 pm IST - Bengaluru:

Sathya Devi (29), a researcher who settled down in the city five years ago, used to travel 10 km in peak traffic twice a week to learn the veena. Twenty-year-old M. Chidananda, a biotechnology engineering student who loves Indian classical music, used to miss out on his music classes owing to time constraints. But not anymore, for both have now switched to learning music online.

Indian classical music has taken to technology like a duck to water, with apps, web tutorials and online schools now popular. Most of them have lesson plans and detailed instructions, and some even use Skype and other video-chat services.

E-learning gives students the luxury of learning from the comfort of their homes at a time of their choosing. “The ingenuity of the teaching methods that websites and online schools use is simply mind-boggling,” says Pranesh Rao, who works with a courier company in Bengaluru. He uses a software product called ‘Guru Swara’ that provides vocal lessons for both beginners and advanced students. “With no access to a teacher at a suitable time, my friend in Hyderabad suggested that I buy Guru Swara, which has helped me learn 24 kritis in just one year. There are innovative ways of learning…one can analyse a single raga brought about in a geethe, varna, kriti or even a lighter piece such as a devaranama or tillana, for its structuring,” Mr. Rao says.

Changing view

According to this generation of music students, technology has intervened to replace the long-established gurukulavasa, which is known for ‘learning in entirety’. E-learning has its fair share of critics who feel that instruction in Indian classical music is best done in the traditional manner.

But working professionals, especially new learners, are finding the online route more compatible with their hectic schedules.

One of the foremost websites in this field is, launched in 2009. “Basic lessons and nearly 250 kritis available on the website can be streamed,” says city-based Sowmya Acharya, the founder of Acharyanet. With nearly a dozen established names in Carnatic music available as gurus, Acharyanet also offers content lessons, from basic to advanced levels.

Incidentally, Ms. Sowmya founded Acharyanet after learning music from her guru using Skype. While working in California, she took advanced Carnatic lessons from Chitraveena teacher Narasimhan. “In a few years, I started Acharyanet as a referral service for students to find the right gurus,” she says.

Singer-cum-music director Shankar Mahadevan believes e-learning is about the need to find peace and calm in one’s personal space through music. In 2010, Mr. Mahadevan co-founded the ‘Shankar Mahadevan Academy of Music’, a brick-and-mortar school that reaches out to the world. Unlike pre-programmed software, the academy facilitates the interaction between teachers and students from different parts of the world.

“I would like to add that online one-on-one interactions are more effective than offline classes. Online classes reduce the tutor-student ratio as we have no more than three students in a batch. One can even opt for a one-on-one batch as our model of teaching provides our teachers with a ‘teach kit’ that helps them to adapt the lesson to a particular student,” he says.

The academy holds 500 virtual classes a day across several musical genres, with nearly 5,000 students from 47 countries.

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